#PTonICE Daily Show – Thursday, March 7th, 2024 – Don’t miss the lateral shift!

In today’s episode of the PT on ICE Daily Show, Spine Division lead faculty Jordan Berry discusses the concept of a lateral shift when addressing low back pain, as well as three objective & 1 subjective ways to assess the potential presentation of a shift.

Take a listen or check out our full show notes on our blog at www.ptonice.com/blog.

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All right, what is up PT on Ice daily show? This is Dr. Jordan Berry coming at you live on a technique Thursday or an assessment Thursday for today. So I’m lead faculty for cervical management, lumbar spine management. And today we’re talking about the lateral shift and how in the clinic we can pick up on the lateral shift so that we’re not going to miss it. So we’re going to talk about just a few ways from an objective and a subjective standpoint that we can pick up on the shift so that we don’t miss it. And so one thing that I commonly see in the clinic, whether it’s a client who is not getting better, or it’s a client who’s not progressing like we think they should be, or if I’m doing a case review with another clinician or watching that clinician evaluate the lumbar spine, one thing that we commonly see is the lateral shift is not on that person’s radar, or they don’t know all of the different ways that a lateral shift can present. We’re going to unpack that over the next few minutes here.

When we talk about a lateral shift, what we’re really talking about is when someone has an acute episode of low back pain, oftentimes it’s back and back related leg symptoms as well. they will oftentimes have what we call a lateral shift. And so that is when, quite literally, the body is shifted in a direction where the hips go one way and the shoulders go the other way. And there’s a bunch of different theories on why this can happen, but really the person is going to inherently avoid this side of pain. So almost always the shift is going to be in the opposite direction of the side of symptoms. And so when we talk about a lateral shift, we name it based on the shoulder position, not the hip position. So for example, if I had pain on the left side and I was shifted this way, away from the side of symptoms, then we would name the shift based on where the shoulders are heading. So in this case, it would be a right lateral shift if I am going towards the right with my shoulders and towards the opposite side with my hips. And so again, there’s a bunch of different theories on why this can happen, but one thing for sure that we see very consistently in the clinic is if someone presents with a lateral shift and it’s not corrected or that treatment does not respect the lateral shift, you will typically not make very much progress. But it’s not just a visible shift. There are other ways that we can sometimes pick that up. And so we’re going to spend just a few minutes unpacking that. So I’ve got Jenna here to help me with a couple of demos. So if you’re listening on the on the podcast right now, jump over to YouTube or Instagram if you want to see an actual visual of what we’re talking about. So I’ve got four ways that you can pick up a lateral shift in the clinic.

So starting with number one, number one is the most obvious. It’s actually visible. So when someone has really significant back and or back related leg symptoms, you’ll quite often see a visible, a literal shift when you’re looking at them square on. And so if I have Jenna stand right here facing the camera. So let’s say that Jenna had symptoms in the left part of her low back and then going down the left leg. almost always what you will see is the shift would be towards the opposite side of symptoms. So we would see Jenna’s shoulders going towards the right away from the symptoms on the left. And the best spot to look when you’re staring square on at the client would be at the forearms. And so we’re looking at a difference in space between the forearms. So sometimes you might have to snug up the shirt a little bit or ask the client to relax the arms, but you will see a difference, more space on the side that the person would be shifting towards. It can be very obvious sometimes or it can be really subtle, but I’m always starting just getting a good visual of looking at the person square on. So number one is an actual visible shift. Okay.

Number two is an asymmetry in side bend or an asymmetry and lateral flexion. So when we’re going through active range of motion, we will typically see that side bending towards the side that they’re already shifted towards is gonna be much better than going towards the opposite side. So using this same example here, if Jenna is shifted towards the right, right, her shoulders are going towards the right side, what we will typically see is that she side bends towards that side, right, towards the right side, that it’s pretty solid because that’s the direction her body’s already wanting to go to. And then when you go to the opposite side, it’s gonna be, yep, very limited and oftentimes painful. And so anytime I see an asymmetry in lateral flexion or an asymmetry in side bend, I’m for sure gonna test out a lateral shift correction to see if it makes a difference. And when we say asymmetry in side bending, it’s not always just an asymmetry in range of motion, can also be an asymmetry in symptoms. So even if the side bending is relatively similar from a range of motion standpoint with how far the person can side bend, if one side is dramatically different from a symptom, from a pain standpoint, that’s also sometimes indicative of a lateral shift. Okay, so number two is an asymmetry in side bend.

Number three, an asymmetry in rotation of the hip. Specifically, internal rotation is usually the one where you’re going to pick up on it. So if I have Jenna sit right here on the table and she just does internal rotation while she’s sitting right here. So we’re just assessing how much internal rotation we have. And then if I had Jenna fake a lateral shift, so let’s go in the same direction, right? She’s shifted towards that right side because she’s off when her shoulders go to the right, she’s offloading the left side. And so now it’s going to present like she has much better internal rotation on the left versus the right. Now, it might not be true internal rotation that is different. It might just be of the position of the hips that it presents as if it’s different. So picking up on internal rotation again, either because of symptoms or because of range of motion, can be a third way to differentiate between someone having a lateral shift. You can test it in sitting like what we’re doing here. You could also test it in supine, but Very commonly it is the side opposite of the shift that actually might have a bit more internal rotation. Again, because of the position of the torso or the position of the trunk.

And then lastly, the fourth way that we can pick up on a lateral shift is in the subjective. So the first three are going to be more in the objective exam, right? The last one, the subjective, is going to be a preference for sleeping or lying on one side versus the other. So that could be, again, sleeping, that could be laying on the couch, it could be any time the person’s non-weight bearing, they prefer to go in one side versus the other. And again, because they’re offloading the painful side.

So if I hear any of those four things, whether it’s in the subjective or the objective exam, I’m for sure going to test the lateral shift correction because I can’t afford to miss it. So again, as you’re going through this week and you’re seeing someone that has acute low back pain, back-related leg symptoms, and you’re trying to pick up on the lateral shift, what are those four things that might indicate that? Well, number one, the most obvious, it’s visible. So you’re gonna look at the person square on, and you’re gonna look at the forearms to see if there’s a difference in space side to side with their arms relaxed. Number two, an asymmetry in side bend. That asymmetry could be range of motion, being asymmetrical or symptoms being asymmetrical side to side. Number three is a difference in hip rotation, more specifically internal rotation. And then lastly, the subjective exam is a preference for sleeping and or lying on one side versus the other. All right, that’s all that I got for you today. This is part one of two. So we’re going to come back in a few weeks and jump on again and go over different ways that we can actually correct the lateral shift. The one that we know most commonly, right, when you’re standing on the side and you’re shearing the person or shifting the person in the opposite direction, that is by far the most common. But we’ve got a lot of other cool variations when the person might not tolerate that position. So as always, if you want to learn more about this, hit us up at one of our live lumbar management courses. And we’ve got a bunch coming up from the spine division over the next few months. I know we’ve got two coming up this weekend to next weekend as well. Cervical and lumbar spine management. Have an awesome day in the clinic. Thanks, team.

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